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Life with Sasha and Ann
by Tania Manning
Feb 2016
Citation:   Manning, T. "Life with Sasha and Ann". Erowid Extracts. Feb 2016;28:22-23. Online edition: Erowid.org/culture/characters/shulgin_alexander/shulgin_alexander_article10.shtml
Sasha, Tania, Ann, and Greg - Burning Man (2008)
Tania and Sasha at Avebury Henge (2009)

After reading PiHKAL and TiHKAL, I fell in love with Sasha and Ann and decided I had to meet them. I saw them speak at the 2001 Mind States conference in Berkeley, but since my husband Greg and I actually lived near the Shulgins in Lafayette, it seemed like I should stop by and say hello. We had briefly crossed paths before, but all we knew about the Shulgins was that Sasha was a chemist. Greg encouraged me for a year before I finally went up the hill to re-introduce myself.

I expressed interest in working for them and learned that Ann's daughter Wendy, who had been Sasha's research assistant for ten years, was moving to Los Angeles to be with her husband Jason. The Shulgins hired me in 2003 at the Altered States and the Spiritual Awakening conference in San Francisco. The following year, I started working as Sasha's research assistant helping him with his last book, The Shulgin Index.

A few years later, Greg and I moved to the Farm and were fortunate to witness firsthand Sasha and Ann's continuing love story.

The Workday
Sasha was a great boss and teacher, making it fun to go to play with him every day (as a job!). He answered letters from drug war prisoners and budding young chemists seeking advice on educational paths. He sent free books to people who couldn't afford them and spent time talking with lonely people on the phone. Somehow, in his late 70s, he also kept up with research, created new compounds, and traveled to numerous events to speak.

In the morning, he would greet me with a cup of coffee and ask me about my life, and then I would ask about his. After a few email exchanges with his friends, usually involving groan-worthy puns, we would get into the research for the book.

Ann would come into the room and Sasha would drop everything, giving her his undivided attention. They would have their morning kiss then we would continue with our work.

Travel
As the Shulgins' assistant, I accompanied them on their travels. We celebrated Albert Hofmann's 100th birthday in Basel, Switzerland in 2006, and Sasha's 82nd birthday the next year in Costa Rica at the Mind States conference. In 2009, we drove to visit Myron and Jean Stolaroff in Lone Pine, California. Jon Hanna and I were on a mission to box up Myron's personal files--stored for years amidst dust and rodent droppings--so that Erowid Center could begin the process of digitizing and publishing them online.

On a speaking tour in the United Kingdom, we were welcomed into the countryside home of Beckley Foundation's Amanda Feilding and her husband Jamie. At the nearby Avebury henge monument, we touched the five-thousand-year-old stones, covered in lichen that seemed even older. We had great fun as Greg tried to follow Jamie driving 80 miles an hour, with Sasha screaming at every turn. (Back home, whenever I would go through a yellow light, Sasha would mimic a police siren.) I still remember Ann's delight in finding the best fish and chips she'd ever tasted in a pub in the nearby village of Avebury.

Sasha would ask people when their passport expired. He told me if things got really bad in this country he and Ann would move to Barcelona. It was one of their favorite cities in their travels.

Burning Man
I had been to Burning Man twice before Ann and Sasha decided to take the trip with me. Sasha, Ann, Greg, and I went three years in a row. I will never forget Sasha's enthusiasm for getting out of the RV and wanting to follow me in my tradition of walking to the Man immediately upon arrival. When we got there, the Man wasn't finished, and was still closed to the public. But someone recognized Sasha and we were let inside for a peek.

The next year, Greg and I brought our golf cart so we could take Sasha and Ann out on the playa, making it much easier to see the sights. That same year, the documentary filmmaker Etienne Sauret came out to film them at Burning Man. He followed them for five years before releasing Dirty Pictures, a movie about Sasha's life and work.

At Burning Man, the Shulgins gave talks and marveled at the art installations. Sasha would bring out his red pen to work on The Shulgin Index in the morning as people came out of their RVs and tents. I remember one morning Ann opening the door to their RV and saying, "There is sex after 80!"

Sasha's chemist instincts were always on. In advance of a planned burn involving propane at the Crude Awakening art installation in 2007, Sasha was very concerned, telling us not to breathe if things went wrong.

Sasha was great at holding court: teasing people, asking impossible questions, delivering puns, and educating at the same time. He was a great teacher because he believed that each person was capable of learning anything. There were no limitations as far as he was concerned. This was contagious for anyone who interacted with him.

Sasha was great at holding court: teasing people, asking impossible questions, delivering puns, and educating at the same time.
There have been several people who shared stories of wanting to meet Sasha all their lives, then somehow finding our camp where they realized their dream.

Collaborations
Ted Shulgin was Sasha's only son by his first wife, Nina. They were part of the original research group. Ted told me that TMA-2 was his first psychedelic, given to him by Sasha. He learned chemistry from Sasha and knew how to synthesize compounds (his favorite was 2C-I).

Ted grew cannabis plants for Sasha in the 1970s, when he was researching it under a government contract. Thirty years later, Dr. Paul Daley analyzed a sample wiped from a flask stored in the magic stock room and found it contained THC.

Every Sunday, Peyton Jacob came to the Farm for time in the lab, working together with Sasha. They were a great duo. When Sasha introduced me to him, he said, "Tania, this is Peyton. Everyone thinks I'm the great chemist but he's the great one." They worked well with one another, creating the 2C series and beyond. On Monday nights they would go to Round Table Pizza after a day at San Francisco General, where they were working on nicotine studies. They would draw dirty pictures on napkins over slices and cheap red wine.

When Sasha's health began to decline and he required round-the-clock care, the tribe came together to help provide money for caregivers and top-notch medical care. Donations of all kinds poured in; there was one envelope with no return address and a five-dollar bill in it. I could not possibly name all the people who gave of themselves to take care of Sasha. Thank you for your love, kindness and generosity. Thanks to all of the volunteers who help with the preserving of Sasha and Ann's life's work and maintaining Sasha's cactus garden. It's great to be archiving Sasha's files and finding insights into the man before and after he met Ann. They really brought out the best in one another.
Photo Credits #
  1. All images from the Shulgin Archives.
Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Feb 2016 - published in Erowid Extracts.
  • v1.1 - Feb 2017 - Erowid - Published on Erowid.org.